1. ‘You have the same calendar we do?’
There’s a reason voters chose an outsider to take control of the government machinery. Restaurants’ obligations under pending menu labeling laws were “clarified” this week, and the communications were anything but illuminating.
On the federal level, the Food & Drug Administration issued a statement on Nov. 29 that was intended to clear up confusion about when chain restaurants are expected to post nutritional information on menus and menu boards. That’d be Dec. 1, or two days later, the missive explained, as if it was asking hundreds of thousands of businesses to leave a light on for an extra minute, not undertake a moonshot.
The potential source of the confusion was an earlier indication from the FDA that restaurants wouldn’t be held accountable for the new standards until May 5. That’s still the case, the agency said in its Tuesday clarification. There will be no enforcement of the rules until that date. Indeed, authorities are prohibited by a separate law from spending a single penny on policing the labeling mandates until that time.
Uh, come again? The industry is required to comply, but won’t really be required for another five months?
2. Meanwhile, California goes its own way
Enforcement of menu labeling rules won’t begin for chain restaurants until May 5—unless the establishments are located in California, the industry’s largest market by far. State health officials issued their clarification a week ago, stating that the state’s menu labeling requirements and enforcement will start Dec. 1.
However, the expectation is that regulators will use the first six months of enforcement to educate restaurateurs about exactly what’s required of them. That grace period extends past the federal start date of enforcement, raising the possibility that operations in California will need to please two masters, possibly each having different agendas.
3. A key ruling—and we’re not talking overtime regs
Not all of the recent political surprises have been unpleasant ones for the industry. A federal judge’s temporary stay on new overtime pay rules was undoubtedly a major godsend for the business, but it wasn’t the only labor-related break that restaurants were handed last month.
A second Texas judge issued a permanent injunction in November against the persuader rule, a measure decreed by the Department of Labor to help labor counter efforts by restaurants and other employers to resist unionization. The requirement, finalized earlier this year, would have required lawyers and other consultants hired by restaurants to counter an organization effort to let the involved union know of their participation and what they were advising. It amounted to mandating that the counselors’ playbook be shared with the opposition.
But a stake was driven through it by U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings.
4. Chicago’s food safety problem
Government and restaurateurs appear to be in agreement over a hazardous situation that came to light this week in Chicago, where the public learned their eating options aren’t being sufficiently scrutinized to avert health threats. A new report indicated that 56% of restaurants have not been checked by sanitation inspectors as frequently as the law mandates, putting the businesses and their customers at risk.
It’s not as if the inspection schedule is a killer. The rules require a visit by sanitation experts twice a year. But the health department lacks the manpower to inspect even half the city’s restaurants that frequently. The sanitation force consists of only 38 inspectors—56 short of what would be needed to meet the law.
Still, that team inspected 20,900 food-serving facilities last year, or more than two establishments per workday.
Getting back to selling food…
After the shovelful of wonky political news, we leave you with a stat intended to be purely diversionary: Only one in every five millennials has even tried a Big Mac, the sandwich whose jingle many of us baby boomers will be able to sing from memory long after we’ve forgotten the names of our grandchildren.
No wonders sales of the McDonald’s signature have been flat, according to a franchisee memo that was intercepted by The Wall Street Journal.
Unfortunately, the stunner of a stat was back in consciousness this week because of news that Jim Delligatti, the Pittsburgh-area franchisee who developed the Big Mac, died this week at age 98. He never collected a penny in royalties for his brainchild.